When websites and web tools are properly designed and coded, people with disabilities can use them. However, currently in sport, many websites and digital tools contain accessibility barriers that make them difficult or impossible for some people to use.
Making the web and digital experiences of sport providers more accessible will improve inclusion and engagement of current and prospective members, workforce, volunteers, fans and customers. This brings with it many benefits.
In this post you will learn:
- What web accessibility is and why it is important
- Who is affected by web accessibility and how to solve some common barriers
- International web standards that define the criteria for web accessibility
- How to evaluate web accessibility and implement solutions
At the end of this post you will learn about our recommended web accessibility tool as well as additional helpful resources, including some example sport organisations who have implemented web accessibility solutions.
What is web accessibility?
Let’s start with the basics.
Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web and contribute to the Web.1
Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, which we will explore in more detail shortly. However, web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities2, for example:
- people using mobile phones, smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
- older people with changing abilities due to ageing
- people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses
- people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio
- people using a slow Internet connection, or who have limited or expensive bandwidth.
The value of web accessibility
The Web is an increasingly important resource in pretty much all aspects of life, including sport. Access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, is defined as a basic human right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). So it is essential that the Web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities.3
Through use of web technology the accessibility barriers faced by people with disability to print, audio, and visual media can be removed.
Let’s take a look at some key areas that highlight the importance of web accessibility.
Accessibility supports social inclusion for people with disabilities as well as others, such as:
- older people
- people in rural areas
- people in developing countries
- people on low incomes
- people with limited access to education.
For sport providers this means an increased market reach, more diverse member base and audience as well as fulfilling objectives for engagement and impact.
Good for business
The business case for accessibility is strong. Accessible digital design improves overall user experience and satisfaction, in a variety of situations, across different devices, and for older users. This can enhance your brand, drive innovation, and extend your market reach.
For sport providers this can mean more registered members, participants, fans and volunteers. They are more satisfied and likely to stay involved for the long term, leading to higher retention.
Web accessibility is required by law in many circumstances. Depending on the situation, jurisdiction and other factors you may have certain legal obligations and may face legal action should you fail to meet them.
For sport providers, ensuring web accessibility standards are being met will limit the chances of litigation and complaints. Just ask MLB (Major League Baseball), which was sued in the United States for failing to provide accessibility of apps for mobile devices based on WCAG 2.1 Level AA for its iPhone and iPad apps. Or the 50 US higher education providers sued for being inaccessible to people with disabilities, who needed to use on-screen readers and other assistive tech.
Why is web accessibility important for sport?
Many sport providers are striving to be more inclusive and welcoming of people from all sorts of backgrounds and abilities. This includes clubs, sport organisations, gyms, fitness and recreation centres and an ever-increasing range of sport enterprises. Often, sport providers focus on their programs, activities, competitions, and pathways when it comes to thinking about inclusion.
However, these days almost all sport providers are also using web technology to communicate, deliver services and manage their members and participants. For example, does your sport use the following web technologies?
- Online payments for memberships, ticketing, and apparel sales
- Online registration forms for membership and program sign ups
- Member Management Systems or CRMs
- Results Management Systems
- Online Training and Courses
- Athlete Data Management and Monitoring Systems
If you answered yes, then it is important that you give some thought to web accessibility.
Now consider this – globally, there are:
- More than 253 million people with visual impairments.4
- More than 360 million people with hearing impairments.5
- More than 50 million people who have epilepsy that may cause seizures.6
- 75 million people who need a wheelchair on a daily basis.7
- As many as 700 million people living with dyslexia.8
Keep in mind that impairments like these are often under-reported. Declines in vision, hearing, and dexterity are quite common as people age but are rarely included in disability statistics. Also, if we consider temporary disabilities (for example, when someone breaks their wrist playing football and is mobility-impaired until it heals), the numbers grow even larger.
Which impairments impact website use?
There are many barriers website users might experience because of impairment. So here is a list of some of the more common impairments and issues they may face, along with some suggested solutions.
Users with hearing impairments may have slight or complete hearing loss.
Remedy: Creating readable text alternatives to any content that has an audio component is an important way to make your digital content more accessible for these users.
Users with visual impairments may have limited vision or total vision loss.
Remedy: Make your content accessible for these users by boosting your website’s contrast, using easy-to-read fonts, making sure content can be enlarged via their browser’s zoom feature, using alt text to provide a written description of visual content, and creating text that is simple for screen readers to interpret.
Users with mobility impairments have limited or no use of one or more of their extremities. This includes (but is not limited to) users with missing limbs, paralysis, and tremor disorders.
Remedy: Often, these users are unable to work with a mouse or a touchscreen. Making sure your website can be navigated using the keyboard, foot pedals, or a sip-and-puff tube can help these users to access your content.
Of these categories, cognitive impairment is simultaneously the largest and most varied but also the least understood. It is also the category with the least developed best practices. It encompasses issues like ADHD, dyslexia, epilepsy, and low literacy, and each user requires different online accommodations.
What website elements create barriers for users?
As we have just covered there are many types of disabilities and impairments that can impact web experiences. To identify and resolve all the possible issues can be a big job. So, let’s break down some of the common things to think about.
Most websites contain the following types of content and functions:
UserWay is a web accessibility solutions provider and in their guide The Basics of Web Accessibility, they break down some common examples, which are summarised below.
The hyperlink is one of the most basic but vital types of interactive content on the web, yet it can present many issues:
- Depending on the colour scheme, users with colour blindness may not be able to distinguish links from static text if they are differentiated only by colour.
- Also, depending on the colour scheme, users with low vision will need adequate contrast between the link text and the background colour for the link to be readable.
- Both blind and mobility-impaired users will need link text that describes what will happen if they activate that link (not just stating, “click here”).
Contact forms and other forms such as registration forms, sign-up forms and payment forms are all commonly used on sport provider websites. Designing these the right way will ensure accessible use. Issues faced by users may include:
- Users with low vision will need adequate contrast between the background and the form controls and labels for the form to be readable.
- Users with colour blindness may need a visual indicator other than colour to identify required fields versus optional fields.
- Users with mobility impairment will find navigating the form easier if fields are stacked on top of each other rather than side by side.
- Blind users will need clear labels and, in some cases, supplementary instruction within the flow of the form (not off to one side where they may not hear the screen reader communicate it when they need to or may never hear it at all).
- Both blind and mobility-impaired users will need easy and standardised keyboard navigation to move around the fields and to operate them.
What are some common web accessibility issues in sport?
Here are a few scenarios to help you understand what web accessibility challenges and solutions can look like for sport providers. This list is not exhaustive as accessibility issues are wide and varied. The key thing to keep in mind is that the needs of people with disability are diverse and unique to everyone. So, digital accessibility needs to be customisable so that each user can access the support they need.
A sport event organiser receives a call from a retiree trying to order tickets via the website. He attempted to fill out the order form but reports that the order page doesn't have any text boxes where he can add his information. After a long conversation with customer service, both sides discover that the textboxes were actually just too faint for him to see.
Solution: The sport event organiser needs to increase the contrast on its order form (and likely other parts of its website) to ensure that users can see and use the form easily. Otherwise, they will lose out on potentially valuable ticket sales.
A mother contacts her child's sport club to report that the club website is nearly impossible for her to read. Since the font is so small, she is forced to zoom the screen to 200% and now has to scroll right and left in order to read each line. She often loses her place and can't easily get the information she needs.
Solution: The club should ensure that their website reflows responsively and that the standard font is larger.
A parent with dyslexia is researching different after-school sport options for their child. They find a program that they would like to try, but due to fancy fonts, flashy banners, long and dense text passages, and random popups, they are unable to wade through the website's information to figure out if it's even available where they live.
Solution: The sport provider needs to declutter their site and make everything clearer for the person to read. By choosing easy-to-read fonts, breaking up long passages into smaller paragraphs, increasing the line spacing, and reducing unnecessary distractions, they can help potential participants find the information they need.
A Paralympic athlete is trying to read selection criteria on the sport organisation’s website. Since her tablet is affixed to her wheelchair, she needs the website to rotate in order to display properly. However, the sport organisation’s site is only designed to be viewed in one device orientation.
Solution: The site owner needs to design a responsive site that re-sizes and rotates to fit multiple device sizes and orientations.
Web accessibility standards
The World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, commonly known as WCAG, sets the standards for web accessibility globally. WCAG is not the only set of standards, for example Section 508 guidelines in the USA and the European Web Accessibility Directive.
Here’s a quick summary of WCAG.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are broken down into three levels:
Level A — This is the lowest level and includes relatively easy enhancements to make. This level represents the bare minimum of accessibility.
Level AA — This is the intermediate level and contains enhancements that further increase accessibility but are more difficult to implement.
Level AAA — This is the highest level of standards, and they are the most difficult to meet. However, they do yield the greatest accessibility for end-users.
Watch this 4 minute video for more details:
A more detailed summary of the WCAG requirements can be found here: https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/
According to W3C, when developing or redesigning a website, it is important to evaluate accessibility early and throughout the development process as it is easier to address accessibility problems when they are identified early. A comprehensive evaluation after development to determine if a website meets all accessibility guidelines takes more effort.
To get started you can use W3C’s Easy Checks – A First Review of Web Accessibility available at this link https://www.w3.org/WAI/test-evaluate/preliminary/
For more specific advice you can also use the following guides provided by W3C:
- Provide sufficient contrast between foreground and background
- Don’t use colour alone to convey information
- Ensure that interactive elements are easy to identify
- Provide clear and consistent navigation options
- Ensure that form elements include clearly associated labels
- Provide easily identifiable feedback
- Use headings and spacing to group related content
- Create designs for different viewport sizes
- Include image and media alternatives in your design
- Provide controls for content that starts automatically
Web accessibility tools
Web accessibility evaluation tools are software programs or online services that help you determine if web content meets accessibility guidelines. There are hundreds of these tools out there, with varying features, use cases, ease of implementation and, of course, cost.
You can search some of these tools at this link https://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/tools/
However, since most sport providers are limited by technical knowledge, resources and time it’s great to know there are some tools out there that will help you make a huge impact on your web accessibility with little effort and knowledge required. One such example are the tools provide by UserWay.
UserWay Accessibility tools
Inclusive Sport Design has partnered with UserWay, the world’s leading automated website accessibility solution for WCAG Compliance. ISD recommends UserWay to our sport clients as a great tool to evaluate and take action on web accessibility.
We even use the UserWay widget on this website, which you can access at the bottom left of screen.
Some of UserWay’s solutions include:
As an easy first step you can use UserWay’s free page inspector tool to see if you have any web access issues to address.
You can also read our full review of UserWay here.
Examples from sport
Here are few sport websites that have implemented web accessibility features.
Hockey Australia has implemented the UserWay Web Accessibility Widget on their site and all its Member Organisation sites. You can access the widget at the top right of each page.
Read Hockey Australia’s article about how they implemented UserWay here.
You can also see Hockey Queensland’s Accessibility Statement here.
BHFC has implemented the UserWay Web Accessibility Widget on their site. You can access the widget at the bottom left of each page.
Read the Beverly Hills Fencers’ Club Accessibility Statement here.
Paralympics Australia has integrated a web accessibility widget into their website with a range of options that meet the needs of people with various impairments and needs. It can be accessed by selecting the accessibility icon at the top left of the screen on each page.
Sport Australia has implemented an accessibility tool that offers users a range of features. It can be accessed by selecting the audio icon in the right margin of each content page.
The Office of Sport has developed their site to be compliant with WCAG 2.1 Level AA. They offer users an Accessibility Statement with the option to request information in alternative formats.
Read the Office of Sport’s Accessibility Statement here.
Use these resources to learn more and help improve your web accessibility.
- ISD’s UserWay review
- World Wide Consortium Accessibility Guidelines
- The a11y Project
- US Government Accessibility Guidelines
- EU Web Accessibility Directive
- Make content accessible - digital guide, Victorian Government
Now that you know what web accessibility is all about and you’ve seen how some sport organisations have worked towards WCAG compliance, it’s your turn!
Your first and easiest step is to check the accessibility of your website.
Thanks to our web accessibility partner, UserWay, ISD can help you check your website for free. Just click the link below then add your organisation's website.
You will get an instant shareable report that tells you:
- your accessibility compliance level
- your accessibility score
- your risk of legal action
Once you have your report share it with the decision makers in your organisation responsible for the website and advocate for improvement. Simple.
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